Cultivating healthy gardening and outdoor recreation habits

The last killing frost is past, the smell of freshly cut grass and newly spread mulch permeates the air, and those barren gardens, empty window boxes and flower beds are beckoning. This is a wonderful time of year for gardeners and anyone who enjoys working or playing outdoors. But it’s also an opportunity to strain ourselves, pull muscles or overwork our backs and knees, especially if we haven’t been exercising or using those muscles regularly.

As we return to playing, working and recreating outdoors, it’s important to remember to be conscious of our bodies, do everything in moderation, and avoid common opportunities for injuries that can be short term or may last far longer than the flowers we’re planting. And whether we’re playing our first rounds of golf, volleying on the tennis court, or working in the yard, remember many of us may be using muscles and joints that have been on winter hiatus.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), seasonal athletic activities and common gardening tasks such as digging, planting, weeding, mulching and raking can cause stress and strain on muscles and joints, primarily in the shoulders, back, neck and knees. APTA recommends the following steps to minimize the risk of injury while working around your home and yard:

  • Warm up before you begin. Get your heart rate up by taking a 10-minute walk followed by some stretches for your upper and lower back, neck, arms and legs.
  • Roll your shoulders back in a circular motion and slowly move your head from side to side a few times to loosen up.
  • Don’t overdo it. Be mindful of how your body feels. If you experience an aching back or neck, then slow down and stretch or stop and switch to a different task.
  • Use a garden cart or wheelbarrow to move tools and heavy planting materials.
  • Don’t kneel on both knees. Keep one foot on the ground to give your back more stability. If you have to kneel, use knee pads or a pillow to absorb some of the pressure.
  • Change positions and take frequent breaks to avoid stiffness or cramping.
  • Start with smaller projects and build gradually. Don’t try to do it all at once.
  • Bend at your knees when you grab something or pull a weed, and bend your knees and contract your abdominal muscles to avoid straining your back.
  • Finish your gardening session with a short walk or some light stretching. Take a warm bath or shower to help prevent next-day soreness.

If, after a day or two of outdoor activity, you experience serious or persistent pain that seems like more than just temporary soreness, call your physician. Being careful, stretching properly and knowing when to stop will help ensure that you remain as healthy and strong as the beautiful flowers, bushes and flora you tend.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!